Beneficiary designation – specific or not?

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Q. Vanguard has sent me a beneficiary designation verification letter. For the primary beneficiary, it says it will be the person I am married to at the time of my death. For the secondary beneficiary, it says, my descendants “per stirpes.” I have one child. Should the beneficiary designation include his name?
— Crossing Ts, Dotting Is

A. We’re glad to see you’re looking closely at your beneficiary designations.

Not having it right can cause a lot of trouble after you die.

Naming a beneficiary requires some thought, said Altair Gobo, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

He said when designating beneficiaries, you should always consider a primary and secondary or contingent.

“Naming beneficiaries generically, such as `wife,’ `spouse’ or `children’ may create legal hurdles in the event of divorce or in case someone becomes disenfranchised,” Gobo said. “It’s always best to name beneficiaries specifically and in the event you name minors, be sure you have designated a guardian.”

Because our lives are everchanging, Gobo recommends you revisit your life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s, and any other instruments that require beneficiary designations every few years to make sure everything is the way you want it to be.

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The post was originally published in October 2017. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.